“Instead of Gold, I Found Diamonds”
AS TOLD BY MICHALIS KAMINARIS
After five years in South Africa where I had gone in search of gold, I was returning home with something much more valuable. Let me tell you about the wealth that I now possessed and desired to share.
I WAS born in 1904 on the Greek island of Cephalonia in the Ionian Sea. Both my parents died soon afterward, so I grew up an orphan. I longed for help, and I often prayed to God. Even though I regularly attended the Greek Orthodox Church, I was in total ignorance of the Bible. I found no consolation.
In 1929, I decided to emigrate and search for a better life. Leaving my barren island, I set sail for South Africa by way of England. After 17 days at sea, I reached Cape Town, South Africa, where I was immediately hired by a fellow countryman. However, I did not find consolation in material wealth.
Something More Precious
I had been in South Africa about two years when one of Jehovah’s Witnesses visited my workplace and offered me Bible literature in the Greek language. It included the booklets Where Are the Dead? and Oppression, When Will It End? I well remember the eagerness with which I read them, even learning by heart all the quoted scriptures. One day I said to a colleague: “I have found what I have been looking for all these years. I came to Africa for gold, but instead of gold, I found diamonds.”
It was with great joy that I learned that God has a personal name, Jehovah, that his Kingdom has already been established in the heavens, and that we are living in the last days of this system of things. (Psalm 83:18; Daniel 2:44; Matthew 6:9, 10; 24:3-12; 2 Timothy 3:1-5; Revelation 12:7-12) How thrilling it was to learn that Jehovah’s Kingdom will bring endless blessings to all races of mankind! Another fact that impressed me was that these precious truths were being preached worldwide.—Isaiah 9:6, 7; 11:6-9; Matthew 24:14; Revelation 21:3, 4.
I soon located the address of the Watch Tower Society’s branch office in Cape Town and obtained more Bible literature. I was especially delighted to obtain a personal copy of the Bible. What I read moved me to want to give a witness. I started by sending Bible publications to my relatives, friends, and acquaintances back in my hometown of Lixoúrion. From my studies, I gradually came to understand that to please Jehovah one has to dedicate one’s life to him. So I immediately did so in prayer.
On one occasion, I attended a meeting of Jehovah’s Witnesses, but since I did not know English, I did not understand a word. When I learned that there were many Greeks living in Port Elizabeth, I moved there, but I failed to find any Greek-speaking Witnesses. Hence, I decided to return to Greece in order to become a full-time evangelizer. I recall saying to myself, ‘I will return to Greece even if I have to get there half naked.’
Full-Time Ministry in Greece
The spring of 1934 found me on the deck of the Italian ocean liner Duilio. I reached Marseilles, France, and, after a ten-day stay there, left for Greece aboard the passenger ship Patris. While we were at sea, the ship had mechanical problems, and during the night the order was given to lower the lifeboats into the sea. Then I recalled my thoughts about getting to Greece half naked. However, an Italian tugboat eventually arrived and towed us to Naples, Italy. Later we finally reached Piraiévs (Piraeus), Greece.
From there I headed for Athens where I visited the branch office of the Watch Tower Society. In a conversation with Athanassios Karanassios, the branch overseer, I asked to receive a full-time preaching assignment. The following day I was on my way to the Peloponnisos, in the southern part of mainland Greece. This entire district was assigned to me as my personal territory!
With unbounded enthusiasm I started in the preaching work, going from town to town, from village to village, from farm to farm, and from isolated house to isolated house. Soon I was joined by Michael Triantafilopoulos, who baptized me in the summer of 1935—more than one year after I had started in the full-time ministry! No public transportation was available, so we walked everywhere. Our greatest problem was the opposition of the clergy, who would do anything to stop us. As a result, we encountered much prejudice. Yet, despite the obstacles, witnessing was done, and Jehovah’s name was advertised far and wide.
One morning, while preaching in the mountainous district of Arcadia, I reached the village of Magouliana. After an hour of witnessing, I heard church bells and soon realized that they were tolling for me! A mob gathered under the leadership of a Greek Orthodox archimandrite (a church dignitary ranking below a bishop). I quickly closed my witness bag and prayed silently to Jehovah. The archimandrite, with a crowd of children following him, headed straight for me. He began shouting, “That’s him! That’s him!”
The children formed a tight circle around me, and the clergyman stepped forward and started to push me with his big protruding stomach, saying that he did not want to lay a hand on me ‘in case I might be contaminated.’ He screamed, “Hit him! Hit him!” But just then a police officer appeared and led both of us to the police station. The clergyman was brought to trial for instigating a mob and was fined 300 drachmas plus court expenses. I was set free.
When we arrived in a new area, we made a larger town the base of our activity, and from there we covered all the territory within a four-hour walking distance. That meant that we left in the morning while it was still dark and returned home after evening darkness had fallen, generally visiting a village or two each day. After covering the surrounding villages, we preached in the base town and then moved on. Often we were arrested because the clergy stirred up the people against us. In the region of Parnassus, in central Greece, I was sought by the police for months. However, they never did catch up with me.
One day Brother Triantafilopoulos and I were preaching in the village of Mouríki, in the district of Boeotia. We divided the village into two sections, and I began working the steep slopes, since I was the younger. Suddenly I heard cries from below. As I ran down, I thought to myself, ‘Brother Triantafilopoulos is being beaten up.’ Villagers had gathered in the local coffeehouse, and a priest was stomping up and down like an angry bull. “These people call us ‘the seed of the Serpent,’” he was shouting.
The priest had already broken a walking stick on Brother Triantafilopoulos’ head, and blood was streaming down his face. After I cleaned off the blood, we were able to get away. We walked three hours until we reached the city of Thebes. There, in a clinic, the wound was attended. We reported the episode to the police, and a lawsuit was filed. However, the priest had connections and was finally acquitted.
While we were working the town of Leukas, the followers of one of the political leaders of the area “arrested” us and brought us to the village coffeehouse, where we found ourselves being accused in a makeshift people’s court. The political leader and his men took turns hovering over us and making a speech—ranting on and on—and threatening us with their clenched fists. They were all drunk. Their tirades against us continued from noon until sunset, but we remained unperturbed and kept smiling as we professed our innocence and silently prayed to Jehovah God for help.
At dusk two policemen rescued us. They took us to the police station and treated us well. To justify his actions, the political leader came the following day and accused us of spreading propaganda against the King of Greece. So the police sent us, escorted by two men, to the town of Lamia for further examination. We were kept in custody for seven days and then taken handcuffed to the town of Larissa for trial.
Our Christian brothers in Larissa, who had been notified in advance, awaited our arrival. The great affection they showed us was a fine witness to the guards. Our attorney, one of Jehovah’s Witnesses and a former lieutenant colonel, was well-known in town. When he appeared in court and argued our case, the charges against us were exposed as false, and we were set free.
The general success of the preaching of Jehovah’s Witnesses led to an intensification of the opposition. Laws were passed in 1938 and 1939 forbidding proselytism, and Michael and I were involved in dozens of court cases on this issue. Afterward, the branch office advised us to work separately so as to draw less attention to our activity. I found it difficult not to have a companion. Yet, trusting in Jehovah, I covered on foot the districts of Attica, Boeotia, Phthiotis, Euboea, Aetolia, Acarnania, Eurytania, and the district of the Peloponnisos.
What helped me during this period were the psalmist’s beautiful words of trust in Jehovah: “By you I can run against a marauder band; and by my God I can climb a wall. The true God is the One girding me closely with vital energy, and he will grant my way to be perfect, making my feet like those of the hinds, and upon places high for me he keeps me standing.”—Psalm 18:29, 32, 33.
In 1940, Italy declared war on Greece, and soon thereafter German armies invaded the country. Martial law was declared, and the Watch Tower Society’s books were banned. Those were hard times for Jehovah’s Witnesses in Greece; nevertheless, they grew in numbers dramatically—from 178 Witnesses in 1940 to 1,770 by the end of World War II in 1945!
Serving at Bethel
In 1945, I was invited to serve at the branch office of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Athens. Bethel, meaning “House of God,” was then located in a rented house on Lombardou Street. Offices were on the first floor, and the printery was in the basement. It consisted of a small press and a trimming machine. The printery staff at first was made up of only two persons, but soon other volunteers began commuting from their homes to assist with the work.
Contact with the Watch Tower Society’s headquarters in Brooklyn, New York, was reestablished in 1945, and that year we again started printing The Watchtower on a regular basis in Greece. Then, in 1947, we moved our branch to 16 Tenedou Street, but the printery remained on Lombardou Street. Later the printery was moved from Lombardou Street to a factory belonging to a Witness some three miles [5 km] away. So for a time we were running back and forth between three locations.
I can remember leaving our living quarters on Tenedou Street before dawn and traveling to the printery. After working there until 1:00 p.m., I went to Lombardou Street where the sheets of paper we had printed were taken. There these were folded into magazines, stitched, and trimmed by hand. Afterward we took the completed magazines to the post office, carried them to the third floor, helped the staff sort them, and put the stamps on the envelopes for mailing.
By 1954 the number of Witnesses in Greece had grown to more than 4,000, and enlarged facilities were needed. Hence, we moved to a new three-story Bethel in downtown Athens on Kartali Street. In 1958, I was asked to take charge of the kitchen, and that was my responsibility until 1983. Meanwhile, in 1959, I married Eleftheria, who has proved to be a loyal helpmate in Jehovah’s service.
Enduring Opposition Again
In 1967 a military junta seized power, and restrictions were once again imposed on our preaching work. However, because of our previous experience in coping with bans on our activities, we quickly adjusted and carried on successfully underground.
We held our meetings in private homes and used caution in our door-to-door ministry. Nevertheless, our brothers were regularly arrested, and the court cases multiplied. Our lawyers were always on the run to handle the trials held in various parts of the country. Despite the opposition, the majority of Witnesses kept regular in their preaching activity, especially on weekends.
On a typical Saturday or Sunday after our preaching was completed for the day, a check was made to see who was missing from our groups. Generally, those missing were being detained at the nearest police station. So we took them blankets and food and offered them encouragement. Also, we notified our lawyers, who then appeared on Monday before the prosecutor to defend those who were being held. We happily faced this situation because we were suffering for the sake of the truth!
During the ban our printing operations at Bethel were closed. So the house in which Eleftheria and I lived in the suburbs of Athens became a kind of printery. Eleftheria typed copies of Watchtower articles using a heavy typewriter. She put ten sheets of paper at a time into the typewriter and had to press very hard so that the letters would print. I then collected the pages and stitched them together. Every evening this went on until midnight. A policeman lived on the floor below, and we still wonder why he never became suspicious.
Rejoicing in Continued Expansion
Democracy was restored to Greece in 1974, and our preaching work was again carried on more openly. Yet, during the seven years of restrictions on our work, we enjoyed a marvelous increase of more than 6,000 new Witnesses, reaching a total of over 17,000 Kingdom proclaimers.
We also resumed our regular printing activity on the branch premises. As a result, the Bethel facilities on Kartali Street soon became too small. So a 2.5-acre [1 ha] piece of land was purchased in the Athens suburb of Marousi. New Bethel premises were built that included 27 bedrooms, a factory, offices, and other facilities. These were dedicated in October 1979.
In time we needed even more space. So 54 acres [22 ha] of land were purchased about 40 miles [60 km] north of Athens. The site is in Eleona, on a hillside with a view of mountains and well-watered valleys. There, in April 1991, we dedicated a much larger facility that includes 22 houses, each of which can accommodate eight people.
After spending over 60 years in the full-time ministry, I am still blessed with good health. Happily, I am “thriving during gray-headedness.” (Psalm 92:14) I am especially thankful to Jehovah that I have lived to see with my own eyes the grand increase in the number of his true worshipers. The prophet Isaiah foretold such an increase: “Your gates will actually be kept open constantly; they will not be closed even by day or by night, in order to bring to you the resources of the nations.”—Isaiah 60:11.
How marvelous it is to see millions of people from all nations flocking into Jehovah’s organization and being taught how to survive through the great tribulation into God’s new world! (2 Peter 3:13) I can truthfully say that the full-time ministry has proved more valuable to me than anything this world has to offer. Yes, I have found, not treasures of gold, but spiritual diamonds that have enriched my life beyond measure.
[Pictures on page 23]
Michalis and Eleftheria Kaminaris
(Right) The printery on Lombardou Street